How Covid-19 has affected advertising

Some facts and thoughts

The Coronavirus has significantly impacted our collective lives and habits in 2020. By the end of first quarter, large areas of the country began some form of “stay in place” or “quarantine at home” status. Schools shuttered, restaurants and other small businesses closed, the virus disrupted business as usual.

Dining room tables have become offices and schools, with families calling dibs on internet bandwidth. Video conference calls with accompanying pet and child sound effects are more commonplace. We are hacking our way through our days with these new combined roles of parent / employee / teacher / chef / nurse / coach. We are scared and searching for information.

As the marketing industry shifted to pull or move campaigns – with fewer resources as agencies experience furloughs or lays-offs – research is revealing how target’s lives and habits have likewise been shifting as related to media consumption. Most of these studies found similar results that are to be expected, but we’ve discovered some interesting nuggets.

(Infographic from Visual Capitalist)

When we look at television data – including streaming services – we are not surprised that consumption went up…a lot. With roughly 75% of the country at home (adults and kids alike), it makes logical sense that television consumption increased as an information and news source on the breaking/growing/evolving virus story. As teens and young adults started watching more video content, they gravitated to digital-based platforms including online videos or streaming services, versus their parents or grandparents who favored traditional broadcast television. Nationwide, video consumption increased as viewers had more time to actively watch, or used it as background to “provide company.”

We anticipated radio consumption might decrease in this timeframe, but research showed most consumers said their listening has stayed the same or increased. While about half the country consumed the same amount of radio, about 25% were dusting off the AM/FM and listening at home. While car listening substantially decreased (around 30% and this makes sense as fewer people were/are driving), those in-home radios resurfaced and helped provide that companionship needed for a lot of listeners. Interestingly, the voices of favorite DJ’s really provided listeners a sense of normalcy and camaraderie helping them feel connected to their local community during a time of isolation.

One takeaway from recent industry webinars revealed that while audio consumption overall was relatively flat holistically, podcasts have seen a jump in consumption by between 10% and 20% and a sizeable increase in podcast listenership came from the under 21 community. (Secretly, I imagine and hope for a return to families gathered around their radios to hear the latest Paul Harvey story.)

Social platforms are seeing a massive surge in usage as a way to virtually connect with friends. Outdoor advertising has taken a hit (financially and on delivery) since people are not driving as often, and are postponing or delaying travel plans. Theater advertising has been shut down for two months due to its “non-essential” business status in many states. The ripple effect in the movie-making industry has caused production houses to push earlier release dates and even switch platforms (looking at you Trolls World Tour – great job). While demand for physical newspapers stayed flat, engagement with their online counterparts skyrocketed as people search for information on the virus as it relates to their local community while also seeking ways to still feel in-touch during isolation.

What I found interesting in all the research presented and in subsequent articles I’ve read is that during the first few weeks while consumers were focused on info gathering, a “pandemic fatigue” settled on consumers who just wanted to hear positive news, a positive voice or mindset, to help cope with their day and make it better. To do this, consumers were digging into their existing subscriptions, memberships and resources instead of paying more and/or subscribing to new platforms.

As marketers acquire more consumer consumption intel, some are scrambling to shift investments into the social, digital audio or video streaming spaces. Some have stayed their current course, and still others have pulled advertising altogether as they’re seeing changes in consumer purchase behavior in real time (“want” spending versus “need” spending).

In these unprecedented times with so many unknowns in the coming months, there is a greater humanity desire to (1) stay healthy (2) stay safe and (3) establish some type of “new normal” routine. While states re-open according to their individual plans, and as we standby to see how the second wave of the virus unfolds, I firmly believe that this trend and weight of consumption will not last. This is not establishing new media consumption habits that are enduring. This is a moment in time. It is the response to an abrupt situation where many were caught unprepared and are trying to adjust for the immediate future. Consumer consumption right now is revealing coping mechanisms.

Said differently, this is an extreme stressor on the media consumption habits that we consider “norms.” While consumption amounts have increased/shifted in many ways, they are situational shifts. We anticipate once a vaccine hits the market, and as states and the country overall return to operational norms, that media consumption will revert some to pre-virus status.

As far as when we think we could see a change in these consumption trends? Perhaps this fall when colleges and institutions are committing to “in-person” semesters, or it could be in 2021. The timeline is really unknown. But we think as people go back to the office / back to work, as hiring resumes and new jobs are created, K-12 schools across the country will reopen so students can talk to their teacher in a physical classroom. You will be able to have in-person companionship rather than a video conference or one-sided conversation with your TV or radio.

In short, this is all temporary. While the extremes were “established” and identified in March and April, May and June consumption habits will change again and will continue to change and evolve as the world around us changes.